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Endangered Sea Creatures

Abhijit Naik
While the vastness of marine biome may make one assume that it is immune to exploitation by humans, the information on endangered sea creatures given in this story puts forth a totally different picture of the same.
Other than being the largest, the marine biome also boasts of being the most biodiverse biome on the planet - with millions of marine plants and animal species inhabiting it. Add to it the fact that several thousands of species are waiting to be discovered, and the marine biome becomes all the more interesting.
Marine animals list, which is quite lengthy in itself, includes several species ranging from tiny zooplanktons to whale sharks (which happen to be the largest species of fish on the planet) and blue whales (which are the largest mammalian species on the planet).
Other than these organisms which live in the ocean water, the list of marine animals also includes all those mammals (such as sea lions, polar bears, etc.), sea birds (sea gulls, penguins, etc.) and reptiles (such as the marine iguana) which are dependent on the marine biome for food to a significant extent.
In fact, experts are of the opinion that the lifeforms in marine biome alone exceed the number of lifeforms in all the terrestrial biomes of the world brought together.

Endangered Marine Animals

Even though this list of marine animals seems to be quite impressive, even these creatures, who live in the vastness of marine biome, are not safe from human onslaught. The increasing length of the IUCN Red List - a list of threatened species compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), hints at this very fact.
Our dependence on oceans for food needs no introduction, and exploitation of marine resources in garb of food requirements has left oceans drained in terms of resources.
Other causes of decline of marine population include habitat loss as a result of human encroachment in coastal areas, increase in marine transportation, ocean pollution, effects of climate change on the oceans etc. Over the last few years, several sea dwelling creatures have succumbed to these causes - and quite a few are on the verge of the same.
A mere glimpse of the list of endangered sea creatures - with species as small as krill and as large as the blue whale featuring in it, is bound to leave you in utter disbelief.
Several species of fish (including some sub-species of whales and sharks), sea turtles, sea snakes, as well as mammals, reptiles and birds dependent on oceans have been added to the list of endangered marine creatures over the last few decades.
Species: Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Scientific Name: Caretta caretta
Range & Habitat: Worldwide distribution
Threats: Commercialization of fishing has been one of the major factors when it comes to decline in loggerhead turtles population with several hundred individuals belonging to this species lying every year as a result of being trapped in fishing trawls and other fishing gear.
At the same time, loss of habitat - particularly the destruction of coastal areas which is a nesting site for this species, has also caused their number to decline by a great extent.
Species: Whale Shark
Scientific Name: Rhincodon typus
Range & Habitat: Tropical and warm oceans of the world
Threats: Even though whale shark is enlisted as a vulnerable species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, this has been done only on the basis of a few studies. 
The fact is that whale shark population in the wild is unknown, with some conservationists stating that it is high time they are declared endangered as their number in the wild has come down by a great extent as a result of excessive hunting and ocean pollution.
Species: African Penguin
Scientific Name: Spheniscus demersus
Range & Habitat: South-western coast of Africa
Threats: The African penguin - also referred to as the Black-footed penguin or Jackass penguin, is one of the few species of penguins which can survive in relatively warm regions near the equator. However, climate change that the planet is subjected to is further warming its natural habitat and causing habitat loss for this species. Similarly, lack of food as a result of increasing commercial fishing in this region is also causing the African penguin population to decline.
Species: Sea Otter
Scientific Name: Enhydra lutris
Range & Habitat: Northern and eastern North Pacific Ocean
Threats: Large-scale hunting of sea otters brought down their population from somewhere around 300,000 to some 2000 odd surviving individuals towards the beginning of the 20th century. On the verge of extinction at one point of time, sea otters made a miraculous comeback from there on. However, problems for sea otter are far from over, and the fact that it is still considered endangered means we need to continuing with conservation measures if we are to save it.
Species: West Indian Manatee
Scientific Name: Trichechus manatus
Range & Habitat: Shallow coastal areas of West Indies
Threats: Illegal poaching of various manatee species - including the West Indian manatee, has reduced the number of these creatures by a great extent. The West Indian manatee is predominantly hunted for meat and its skin. Excessive hunting has brought down manatee population to a few thousands, as a result of which this species now features in the list of endangered animals compiled by the IUCN.
Species: Giant Clam
Scientific Name: Tridacna gigas
Range & Habitat: Shallow coral reefs of the South Pacific and Indian oceans
Threats: Even though the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has enlisted the Giant clam as a vulnerable species, people working for wildlife conservation are lobbying for the inclusion of this species as an endangered species citing a massive decline in their population in wild of late. This decline in Giant clam population can be attributed to over-exploitation of this species by humans for food and aquarium trade.
Species: Green Sea Turtle
Scientific Name: Chelonia mydas
Range & Habitat: Tropical and subtropical seas around the world
Threats: Green sea turtles have been subjected to human wrath for quite some time now. In some countries, this turtle species is considered to be a delicacy. It is the loss of habitat as a result of deterioration of coastal areas and pollution in its natural environment that has resulted in survival crisis for this turtle species. Similarly, several individuals are also known to die as a result of being trapped in the fishing nets.
Species: Smalltooth Sawfish
Scientific Name: Pristis pectinata
Range & Habitat: Shallow and sub-tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean
Threats: The smalltooth sawfish has been enlisted as a critically endangered species by the IUCN owing to the steep decline in their population over the last decade as a result of overexploitation. At the same time, the fact that this species has a low reproduction rate and restricted habitat have added to its survival woes with their number in the wild continuing to go down.
Species: Australian Sea Lions
Scientific Name: Neophoca cinerea
Range & Habitat: South and west coasts of Australia
Threats: As with most of the sea lion species, even the Australian sea lions have been hunted on a massive scale for their skin and meat, which has in turn, resulted in a drastic fall in their population. At the same time, food shortage as a result of overfishing and high mortality rate in pups in the wild is also believed to be an important factor responsible for decline in Australian sea lions population.
Species: Dusky Grouper
Scientific Name: Epinephelus marginatus
Range & Habitat: Mediterranean Sea and North Africa coast
Threats: As with most of the marine animals, even Dusky grouper has had to bear the brunt of human interference in its natural habitat. While it was initially believed that overfishing resulted in decline in the number of this species, recent trends reveal that rising temperature of Mediterranean sea water, marine water pollution and competition with jellyfish species are also to be blamed for the same.
Species: Staghorn Coral
Scientific Name: Acropora cervicornis
Range & Habitat: Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean islands
Threats: The susceptibility of this branching coral species to the temperature and salinity levels of the ocean has made it vulnerable to the threat of being wiped off the planet. As in case of elkhorn coral, even staghorn coral is depleting as a result of disease out breaks, predation, disturbance on the sea floor as a result of human activities, as well as natural disasters like hurricanes.
Species: Northern Rockhopper Penguin
Scientific Name: Eudyptes moseleyi
Range & Habitat: Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island (South Atlantic Ocean)
Threats: While climate change - and alteration in marine ecosystem attributed to it, has been the driving factor when it comes to Northern rockhopper penguin population decline, the species has also had to bear the brunt of marine pollution, predation and competition with species - like the Subantarctic fur seals, with whom it shares its natural habitat.
Species: Humphead Wrasse
Scientific Name: Cheilinus undulatus
Range & Habitat: Coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific region
Threats: Humphead wrasse - also known as the Napoleon wrasse or Napoleonfish, is one of the most threatened marine species on the planet. The list of threats that this species is subjected to ranges from loss of habitat - as a result of rising global temperature which is destroying the coral reefs, to increase in marine transportation and introduction of hazardous fishing techniques - which pollute the marine environment.
Species: Elkhorn Coral
Scientific Name: Acropora palmata
Range & Habitat: Caribbean, the Bahamas, and Florida Keys
Threats: Considered to be the most abundant coral species in the Caribbean at one point of time, elkhorn coral has been now enlisted as a critically endangered marine species. While disease outbreak has been the major factor when it comes to coral depletion, other factors like predation, bleaching and destruction by hurricanes have also contributed to depletion of this reef-building coral species.
Species: Hawksbill Sea Turtle
Scientific Name: Eretmochelys imbricata
Range & Habitat: Worldwide distribution
Threats: Loss of habitat as a result of human encroachment in coastal areas is the major factor when it comes to decline in Hawksbill sea turtle population. Other than human encroachment, large-scale predation of turtle eggs by various animals in this region is also responsible for this decline. Add to it the fact that Hawksbill species has a slow growth rate and low rate of reproduction, and that makes it all the more difficult for this species to recover.
Species: Blue Whale
Scientific Name: Balaenoptera musculus
Range & Habitat: Worldwide distribution
Threats: While the Blue whale does boast of being the largest animal to have ever existed on our planet, this fact hasn't done much to save it from human onslaught. In fact, their gigantic size is more of a curse for them as a result of which they can be spotted easily in open ocean.
Other than large-scale hunting, marine transportation has also contributed to a decline in blue whale population.
Other than all these marine species, the list also includes species like the Mediterranean monk seal, Leatherback sea turtles, Hector's dolphin, bluefin tuna, gray whales, etc.
While species like the Great white shark have already been declared vulnerable by the IUCN, there do exist several other species who are much more threatened, but don't find a place in this list of all endangered species - mainly as a result of lack of data.
It may come as a surprise for many, but more than 10,000 different species - each of which are less than 2mm, inhabit various oceans of the world. Again, this is just an estimated figure, with actual number assumed to be somewhere in the multiples of the same.
These data deficient species don't just constitute a huge chunk of the marine ecosystem, but also play a crucial role when it comes to ecological balance here.
The vastness of marine biome makes it difficult to keep a tracks of animals which exist here, and that - in turn, makes it all the more difficult to assess the damage done to this biome. While the estimated population of most endangered sea species in itself puts forth a gruesome picture, the actual figures are expected to be even more alarming - and that makes it all the more important to come up with conservation measures to save these animals, and implement them on a war footing from here on.